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Lesson Seven - Content

Zeuxis and Arte walk on a rainy day. They have been strolling along the river. Then they walked in a wide bow around the meadows. Arte is in a gloomy mood and Zeuxis tries to cheer her up.

Zeuxis: I sense, Arte, that it is no day to talk of theories, of lines and structure, of shapes and balance, or of how to create illusion of movement. How about me telling you a bit about subjects of pictures?

Arte, sullenly: That would be fine, Zeuxis.

Zeuxis, while striding forth: Content in a picture is the subject matter of the picture. It is the subject matter that you can recognise, as compared to your life in your natural environment, Arte. This subject matter can be objects, figures or environments or particular settings of these.
Content can induce strong feelings in humans such as fury, violence or kindness. Thus it is a blatant triviality to state that content is extremely important to communicate emotions from the artist to the viewer.
In pictures without content, which is in abstract pictures, communication is all the more difficult because the obvious display of emotions in the content matter is lacking. I will later show how abstract art can alleviate for this.

Arte: You use such words, Zeuxis! "Natural environment". Pooh! What do you mean?

Zeuxis: Sorry, Arte. By "natural environment" I meant your meadows, your garden, your house, your town. But the natural environment can also be any setting of living in any century. It can be an environment of a natural landscape or of a twentieth century city of skyscrapers, or the interior of a bizarre room. You must recognise the environment and situate it as an environment where you have actually been, and that you have really seen, or that is plausible in the reality of your life. It may be an imaginary environment, as long as this was seen and represented several times before, so that it still can be recognised or remembered. In this last way some of the strangest settings can become familiar. The Surrealist painters in particular exploited this aspect. I’ll explain the style of Surrealism later, Arte.

Arte: So content is imitation of the things I have seen or imagined?

Zeuxis: In a way, Arte. But it is more than that. Figurative representation shows objects that exist in the real world, objects that we can touch. Before the advent of non-figurative art, that is abstract art, it was believed that all art was essentially imitative. We called that "mimesis". Art represented existing things and "good" art was judged by the extent to which it represented faithfully these objects.
The theory of the Greek philosopher Plato, however, asserted that there existed an ideal form, of which the real world objects were only instances. The objects we see and can touch would therefore only be copies of this ideal form. Plato was not just talking about real objects such as a bed, but also about concepts such as Justice or Beauty. If a real object is only a reflection, a diminished copy of the ideal form, a painting, in imitating the copy only, should be even more inferior. Plato did not think much of art.

Arte: Your Plato must have been a dull chap.

Zeuxis: Plato wrote in "The Republic" that there are forms (or concepts, ideas, abstraction) of things and instances of these. He took the example of a particular bed or of a table, which is an instance, a particular instance, of the form or concept "bed" or "table". Plato then argued that a craftsman might exist who was capable to create all artificial and natural objects in the world. It would be a man who spun around a mirror in all directions. That man would of course make only reflections of all things, so a threefold hierarchy could be established: form (or concept), instance (a particular object) and reflection.
Thus, we can consider the form of a bed. The carpenter manufactures a particular bed, and the artist represents what the carpenter made. The painter however only represents part of the superficial appearance of the bed.
Plato stated that the art of representation, of "mimesis", is far removed from the form, from the concept, and from the truth. Therefore an artist makes copies that are a third removed from reality. Plato even stated that all the poets from Homer downwards had no grasp of the truth, but merely produced a superficial likeness of the subject they treated. The painter who makes a likeness of an object knows nothing about the reality but only something about the appearance.
Plato wrote that there were thus three techniques: use, manufacture and representation (or mimesis). The quality, beauty and fitness of an object were to be judged by reference to the use for which man or nature produced it. The manufacturer has a belief about the merits and defects of an object, but he has to listen to someone who uses the object, and thus who knows how relevant the use is. The person with knowledge is the user only. The painter has no direct experience of the use of an object and also not of his or her painting. The painter does not know whether his or her painting is good or right, and he or she has no correct opinion coming from someone who knows what he or she ought to paint. Therefore, the painter has neither knowledge nor correct opinion about the goodness or badness he or she represents. So Plato concluded that "the artist knows little or nothing about the subjects he represents and the art of representation is something that has no serious value".
Plato continued to argue that art appealed to the lower, irrational part of the human nature.
Plato proposed reason and restraint in his ideal state. He said that art encouraged the unreasoning, the irrational part of humans by creating images that are so far removed from the truth. Artists gratify and indulge the instinctive desires in humans, and the better nature of man relaxes its rational control over such feelings. Plato wrote that what we feel for other people must infect what we feel for ourselves. So if we are feeling pity for the misfortunes, sex and anger of others, then those feelings will grow so strong that it will be difficult to restrain such feelings in ourselves.
Plato believed that the artist infects those who look at paintings with the feelings that these paintings show or inspire. Since these feelings are often not "the good" but of a lower moral order, such representation must be treated with much concern. The philosopher went as far as to condemn Homer’s poetry. The issue at stake was for Plato of course the choice between becoming a good man or a bad, and paintings didn’t help in that.

Arte: Gee, that guy Plato really must have been a sourpuss! I believe that the pleasure received from art uplifts man and brings us closer to the "good". Moreover, I believe that the observation of "bad" representations of low moral content does not necessarily corrupt man or woman. Man and woman have a free will, and the fact that art of low moral content can lead a human to acts of low moral content seems to me to be entirely unproven.

Zeuxis: Hmm, Arte. Now, later thinkers adapted Plato’s theory a little! They argued that a painter could be evoking not the representation of the object itself, but of its ideal form. Plato would have asserted that a painting that tried to represent an object was an imitation of an imitation and thus an inferior representation. Later Platonists could argue that paintings, even purely figurative ones, or representational pictures, tried to represent the ideal form, and thus could represent more closely the ideal form than the real object such as a table or a landscape. That was a Neo-Platonist view. Many Renaissance painters may have thought of their art in this way.

Arte: Do we still think that imitation is thus idealist, even divine?

Zeuxis: In our modern views of art, imitation is not a criterion for the value of art anymore. The later form of Platonic theory would already allow for modifying the shapes and colours of a real world object, since the artist might argue that his particular view was a better representation of the ideal form. Imitation is in our view not the sole and valid criterion of art that pleases or has great value.
Paintings however do exist that try to give a perfect illusion of the real world and the best examples of these are the "trompe l’oeil" pictures. We may appreciate these pictures for the degree to which they reach their aim of being perfect illusions of the real world. It remains true that many techniques of representational or figurative painting, such as perspective and chiaroscuro, were aimed at creating more perfect illusions of the real world.

Arte: You were talking about content …

Zeuxis: Yes! I must come back to my subject!
Content can be dense or weak in a picture. A landscape painting for instance of a flat, entirely white winter nature bears probably little content in the opinion of most viewers. The picture may induce strong feelings of loneliness and of cold, but there is little communication of narrative. There is no further intention than to show a landscape and induce one feeling only. Other paintings may be denser in subject matter, contain many elements of narration or of representation of natural objects and scenes.
Content can be expressed by various means. In the first place there is the subject matter of the picture itself. One can see objects, figures, landscapes, architectures, and so on, on the canvas. These may be real objects or imaginary objects.

Zeuxis projects in the meadows, while they walk, the image of just a pot. Arte cannot but smile again, her mood changing for the better.

-> Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699 – 1779). The Copper Fountain. Musée du Louvre. Paris. 1733.

Zeuxis: The French painter Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin showed pots and pans as if they had an inner life. One of his most famous pictures is the "Copper Fountain", a picture of a copper pot used as a recipient of water. Chardin named the pot a fountain, a true name in French, and thus gave the simple object a concept for the imagination that was far wider than the object. The object is simple, an everyday utensil, and yet this object by Chardin’s view and attention received an almost mystic presence. The object becomes permeated by the idea, the inspiration of the painter. Many pictures have as their sole content the object itself. This is the case for the still-lives, for pictures of a few objects seemingly brought together by chance, for pictures of flower bouquets and for landscapes. In these paintings the aim of the painter is in the first place to show his or her skills and to admire the object. The artist may find an answer to his or her mood in the objects or in landscapes. Or he or she might have no other intention than to please and to decorate.

Zeuxis shows another picture.

-> Giorgio de Chirico (1888 – 1978). Il Pensatore. The Giorgio and Isa de Chirico Foundation. Rome. 1973.

Zeuxis: Giorgio de Chirico placed imaginary objects in his pictures, such as people with idealised heads, but still recognisable by the viewer. "Il Pensatore" or the "Thinker" is a strange picture, a meta-physical picture, as de Chirico called them. The human form is recognisable, although the form has not the proportions of normal humans. The head of the figure resembles a Greek helmet, and only eyes are indicated with two dots but not in normal positions. The arms are too long, the chest is disproportionately long as compared to the legs, and the body is not constituted of flesh but of all the elements associated with an intellectual. There are books, Greek statues and columns, mathematical compasses, a blackboard, a harp and scrolls. Yet, in spite of this strange un-physical treatment of the subject, the human from remains recognisable, and de Chirico goes just to the limit of the recognisable but he does not trespasses that borderline. Yet, by going to the border, he brings the viewer in the realm of the imagination and the unusual, away and over realism, into the meta-physical.

Arte: You seem to like Giorgio de Chirico!

Zeuxis: I do, Arte. His pictures remind me of my own world, and yet they always make me very much aware that that world has disappeared. De Chirico works with many symbols from my reality.

Arte: What are symbols? That is a new word for me.

Zeuxis: A symbol is a single pictorial element that represents a more complex image or a meaning. The element can be very simple, reduced to a line or to a few dots. The element can also be a single, connected drawing and thus an image, generally small, on its own. A symbol can be opened in its own right and have as much meaning as a full picture.
Medieval paintings were often crammed with symbols, icons of meaning. Each small area of these pictures could be covered with symbols. A white lily for instance could represent the purity and virginity of Mary, Jesus’s mother and thus represent the Annunciation. In Medieval paintings, very many symbols were associated with the Virgin Mary, and images were taken from King Solomon’s Song of Songs of the Bible. You might read again my text on the Madonna of Glatz. Mary was depicted inside a closed garden, near the fountain of life, reading in the Book of Wisdom of King Solomon, and seated on a throne of wood. Other symbols referred to Christ. A glass of red wine and a piece of bread could refer to the Passion of Christ, and thus call to the mind of the viewer not just the Last Supper but also his Crucifixion on Golgotha. In Sébastien Bourdon’s picture of the "Martyrdom of Saint Andrew", Andrew’s arms form a cross but not an oblique cross. Andrew’s arms form the cross of Jesus, and thus the painter showed the desire of the saint for the same martyrdom as Jesus in symbolic representation.
Symbols represent a more complex image, but that image was tangible, well known in Medieval and Renaissance times. The symbols made it actually easier for the viewer to understand the picture. In later periods painters used symbols in their work that represented an idea or an image, of which only they knew the signification. This idea or image could be guessed by the viewer, and thus in a very intellectual way create admiration, at least in those viewers interested enough in this kind of exercise. This way of representation could lead to very hermetic pictures, however.
The symbols could even become icons without any meanings, which also had no real meaning for the painter, but which were added at the artist’s instant whim, as this was his or her particular style.
The symbol images might be used purely for technical reasons. The form of the icon might suit the composition, or could introduce colours that matched the overall colour patterns. Painters could add symbols by an instantaneous inspiration to enhance the impression of mystical strangeness in the viewer. Often then the image, icon or symbol can be analysed and interpreted as the viewer wishes. This was much the case for the Symbolist painters. Artists of that period (the late nineteenth century) added symbols because each viewer could interpret these differently, and that search joined the mystic of the picture or its overall lyrical mood.
I stated that in still-lives the painter might have no other intention but to please and to decorate. But even in flower pictures, the most classic of all still-lives, profound meaning can be suggested by symbols. That was certainly so for the Dutch seventeenth century Vanitas pieces, in which all the flowers or objects were carefully selected so as to represent the vanity of life. They brought to mind, through the symbolic values of the objects, the swift passage of a life or the Passion of Jesus. Grapes next to a glass reminded of the Passion, parrots reminded of the vanity of unrestrained speech, apples were a reference to the Original Sin.

Arte: So, symbols at least appeal a little to my imagination. Paintings that imitate rarely appeal to the imagination of viewers, don’t they?

Zeuxis: Do not think that, Arte! Paintings always appeal to the imagination, but many of them do that in very subtle ways so that you are not aware of it. Let me explain some of the effects for you.
Content immediately broadens the scope of the picture. You see actually and usually much more in your mind than is represented on the canvas.
When Chardin painted merely a drinking pot in a picture, you can imagine using the pot, or see the pot forgotten in a kitchen. You can build and imagine a story around the object. In this way, a picture does not merely presents its inner glow to induce emotions in the viewer, but it also appeals to the intellect and the imagination of the viewer. The picture appeals to more of the spectator than just his or her emotions of the first impression. After the first impression, the viewer will add more content in his or her imagination. For people who are not so well tuned to the inner beauty of lines, forms and colour, the additional meaning of the content can be very gratifying. The admiration of the viewer and his sensations at the sight of the picture are heightened. The interest of the viewer is stimulated, and hence the painter captures the viewer’s attention also through these means.

Arte: I like pictures that tell a story.

Zeuxis: Ah, the most content indeed lies in pictures that tell stories. Such pictures may show a moment of a story and indicate that moment in a title. For example, Nicolas Poussin’s picture of the "Adoration of the Golden Calf" shows the Hebrews dancing round their Golden Calf statue. The viewer knows that Moses remained long on the mountain, receiving the tablets of the Law. While Moses conversed with Yahweh, the Israelites told themselves that Moses had disappeared. They needed a new God to lead them further. So they made the Golden Calf and had a great feast. You know all that. We have seen that scene before.

Zeuxis projects Nicolas Poussin’s picture again.

-> Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665). The Adoration of the Golden Calf. The National Gallery. London.

Zeuxis: Now comes the trick! You know this is a picture of Moses and I am sure you had Moses all the time in your head. But where is Moses?

Arte, puzzled, goes near to the screen. She searches all over the canvas until she triumphantly points at a very small figure.

Arte: I found him!

Zeuxis: Yes, he is in there. But I am sure that your idea of Moses was quite larger in your mind than that! Poussin showed in a very small corner of his painting Moses coming down the mountain and shattering the tablets from anger. This is a picture that shows one moment of a story in one unity of time. Again, we know the whole story, so that what Poussin showed on the canvas was but part of a very rich image that came to our mind when we look at this work. Nicolas Poussin did not really have to picture in Moses. Every viewer knows that Moses is there! The title widens the painting, since all readers of the Bible know Moses’ story and what happened at the adoration of the Golden Calf, during the feast and afterwards. Moses became very angry and smashed the Tables of the Law. Thus a great disaster is in the making, and the scene of Poussin is a scene of tension.

Arte: Poussin showed scenes at different moments of time then in one painting.

Zeuxis: Yes. Painters sometimes however put various scenes of a story together in a frame. This was often the case for Flemish Primitive painters of the fifteenth century. We see for instance in paintings of the Adoration of the Magi not just the Magi kneeling before Jesus, but often the viewer will find in the background a scene of the arrival of the same Magi, or the Magi on their way. Here there is no unity of time in the picture and many scenes of different moments of time were combined. This way of painting stories continued well into the Renaissance period and after. Many painters used this breaking of unity of time. Andrea del Sarto for instance made a painting of the life of Joseph the Egyptian, in which various scenes of Joseph’s life are shown in one and the same canvas.
In these examples the painter helped the imagination of the viewer in showing some of the scenes that might anyway have come to the mind of the viewer. So these are examples of explicit assistance. In other paintings, such as Nicolas Poussin’s painting, the suggestion may be subtler.
In many abstract pictures, the help provided to the viewer by visual means is practically absent. All the imagination of wider content is then left entirely to the viewer. The important point to remember is however, that paintings and their content are but windows not only to reality but also to our imagination. More often than not, the actual mind-view that the spectator has at seeing a painting if far wider than the scene proposed physically on the canvas. In this lies probably the greatest magic of painting. We will see further examples of this effect in the next lessons.

Arte: Are there other means to stimulate our imagination in this way?

Zeuxis: Oh yes, your imagination and intellect can be further enhanced, through very many means.
In the representation itself, recognisable objects can be modified, so as to be barely recognisable. The Cubist painters analysed an object, tore it apart, and then presented the separate pieces out of context in several places on the canvas. The viewer could still reconstitute and thus recognise the object in his mind. The Cubists were asking themselves questions on just how far one could thus dissect an object and still recognise it. The viewer had to search over the painting, but that search also stimulated his interest and curiosity. The viewer was captured by the image, trying to reconstruct the object, and kept looking.
All these means had in common that the painters aroused in the imagination of the viewers a picture that was far larger than their actual physical work. A whole world of images, sounds, dynamic scenes come to the mind of the viewer when he or she is confronted with a familiar scene. Maybe that is the reason why painters have taken up time and time again just a limited number of well-known themes. The viewer generally appreciates better a painter who knows to stimulate more of his senses and imagination. Viewers appreciate when their emotions and their intellect are appealed to, instead of a painting that appeals to only their emotional reactions, however powerful such feelings might be.

Zeuxis: How do you know what happens in a painting, Arte?

Arte: I usually understand that by looking at the title.

Zeuxis: Of course, and a smart answer. Beyond the mere representation of objects and figures, the painter has at his or her disposal other means of adding meaning to the content. He or she can indeed give a title to a picture.
The title may indicate the artist’s own emotions, to for instance an abstract picture. Or, as William Turner often did, the artist may add an entire program to the picture. Turner called one of his paintings "The Fighting Téméraire taken to her last Berth to be broken up". This is an entire story that broadens far the scope of just the image of the white, dignified sailing ship being tugged by a black and dirty steamship. Such phrases widen further the world-view into which the picture is perceived.
The title furthermore can refer to a well-known story, so that the viewer can situate the picture as one moment of a drama. For many centuries the best-known stories were those coming from the Bible, from the Old and the New Testament. It sufficed for a painter to show a picture of the Crucifixion of Jesus to allow the viewer to situate such a scene in the whole Passion and life of Jesus. A picture of Moses, entitled as such, brought the towering life of the patriarch to the mind of the viewers. Even summary titles such as "Dynamic Suprematism" give the viewer an idea of the intentions of the artist, and that starts communication. Phrases and titles therefore add immensely to the content, and induce comfortable meaning and recognition in the viewer. They bring equilibrium, since the viewer can situate the picture and situate himself versus the picture. Without these explanations of the intentions of the painter, a picture will remain the exclusive property of the artist. The artist may have made a work that appeals to the emotions of the viewer, but less to the viewer’s imagination and intellect. Yet these last elements add to the pleasure of the viewer.

Arte: I saw also paintings in which words were written on the canvas. They were often funny!

Zeuxis: Not satisfied with titles, painters combined written words and phrases directly in their pictures. This was often the case in medieval times, and also in Gothic paintings. Pictures of the Renaissance also brought phrases on the canvas. These further explained the content. The technique is also avidly used in modern and contemporary art.
The idea to use words in a canvas was re-discovered by Georges Braque in 1911 when he stencilled words in a painting called "Le Portugais".
In the twentieth century, the Surrealist painters took up this tradition also, but now to make playful use of words. René Magritte’s picture "Ceci n’est pas une pipe" contains these words under a simple image of a pipe. Magritte played with words and image, for of course, an image of a pipe is indeed not the object itself. He experimented fully with the relationship between words and images. Magritte sometimes did not paint the object, but the word. Thus words made explicit the ambiguity between the object and its image, just as a painted image of an image refers to the object itself, but is not the object in real. Painting remains a process of creation of illusion and Magritte made the illusion very explicit.

Zeuxis projects a painting of René Magritte.

-> René Magritte (1898-1967). The Dispute of the Universals. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou. Paris. 1928.

Zeuxis: Look at the "Dispute of the Universals" of René Magritte, Arte. The words "cheval", "miroir", "canon", "feuillage" stand for pictures of a horse, of a mirror, of a cannon and of foliage. A cold, neutral, non-committing, inorganic, grey star holds the words together. How dull can such a painting be as compared to the real, figurative images that the viewer might expect! So while passing by Magritte’s work, you have to do all the work and re-constitute the painting in your imagination, Arte. Why exactly these words or images are brought together does not matter much. Magritte proved his point.
Letters and words can be read, and thus widen the meaning of the picture, to meaning far beyond the flat space of the canvas. Then words have an expressive value for the work of art. A word stands for what it designates like a symbol or an icon. Cubists and Surrealists introduced words for objects instead of showing the object itself. This had a surprising affect on the viewers. Thought processes and visual processes were combined on the canvas.
Raoul Hausmann (1886 – 1971) for instance used this technique when he put letters in a random order next to each other. The letters invited to be read, but the sequence of letters not necessarily formed words. Therefore the letters became a drawing. And the effort to read caught the viewer’s attention to the canvas.
Phrases are constituted of words and words of letters. Letters are pieces of straight or curved lines. Words and letters can thus have a decorative use. Letters can therefore become images in their own right. We think of course of the very beautiful flowing lines of the Arabic script and of the icon images of Chinese writing. When the letters still remain the letters of existing alphabets, we talk of calligraphy. We know how Chinese calligraphers turn their icons of words in works of art. But the European or Arabic letters can be regarded in their own right, distorted and changed into unreadable language and signs.

Zeuxis projects an abstract picture.

-> Christian Dotremont (1922 – 1979). Logogrammes. Musée Communal d’Ixelles. Brussels. 1978.

Zeuxis: The Belgian Cobra artist Christian Dotremont (I will explain you later what Cobra means) went this road the farthest, when he transformed series of letters in vibrant dynamic compositions. Words became pictures. Dotremont made "Logogrammes" in 1978. This picture is composed of eight pages of Japanese paper on which the transformed letter signs were brought in black ink. The picture consists only of these curved lines. Dotremont’s pictures are devoid of content. What remains is the emotion of letters transformed to fluent beauty. Such pictures are fully abstract art.

Arte: Content, content, … You also talked to me sometimes about abstract art, about lack of content.

Zeuxis: Yes. The contrary of content is lack of content in pictures.
In the beginning of the twentieth century a few Russian and East-European artists engaged in a search to understand what differentiated man from nature. They could but find the mind and the self-consciousness of man as the differentiating element. The mind could think in mathematical formulas, and imagine forms that did not exist in nature. These were the elementary shapes, squares and rectangles, points or dots and lines. The Russian artists, like Kasimir Malevich, thought that by showing combinations of these they could show something of the unique working of the mind. Other Russian painters, such as Wassily Kandinsky, tried to represent pure emotions in colours and curved, open or close shapes, in pictures without any representational forms.
At first, these artists referred still to some form of figuration. Kandinsky thus often spoke of horse riders even though it was hard to see an image of a horse rider in his abstract pictures. Other artists that evolved to abstract art or came very close to it were the Orphists, the Cubists and the Futurists.
Orphists like Frantisek Kupka and Robert Delaunay were investigating the effects of circles or of vertical patterns, to try to understand something of the working of the mind confronted by pictures that were colour patterns only.
The Cubists tore objects apart and placed the parts or only some of the parts in random places on the canvas. It was left to the viewer to reconstitute the original image by his or her imagination. As such pictures became more hermetic they reached abstraction.
The Futurists emphasised the speed of modern machinery and the stress of modern society. In showing the speed, they used increasingly pictures denuded of figuration and aimed at patterns that gave an impression of the shock waves caused by movement through air, or of the turning of the wheels of machines.
In all cases, abstract art was created, that is art that had no reference to any subject matter anymore. This art represented pure mind pictures or pure feelings in colour and shapes. If abstract art was so popular in the twentieth century, even though the later Post-modern artists abandoned it partly, it could be because of the emphasis of the artists on "l’Art pour l’Art", art for art's sake.
A fallacy of abstract art could have become the trend pursued by certain artists to make works of abstract art only for art’s sake. The work of art would exist for itself only, and not for a viewer. Moreover, abstract art was apparently easy. It brought a new fashion that was eagerly taken up by artists who had not much talent at drawing or colouring.
But the first abstract painter, Wassily Kandinsky, already told that every art should communicate the inner glow of the artist. Thus in abstract art the necessity to communicate with the viewer and the power of the original idea, as told to the viewer, remains a very important element of the picture.
Here we have the fundamental issues with abstract art. Abstract art has no subject matter. It shows no recognisable objects or figures. Often, abstract paintings have meaningless titles and they leave the viewer helpless in his search for content. Abstract art then still has to communicate the intentions or moods of the artist. A picture that cannot appeal to the emotions of the viewer, and that has no content, no subject matter, does not communicate. Pictures that are made purely for their own sake, or made by artists who want their feelings to remain so cryptic as not to be comprehended by any viewer, such pictures refuse communication with the viewer and are thus without aim as art. They are indeed art for art’s sake – or should we say pictures for the pictures’ sake, since pictures without aim to communicate merely exist, seemingly without purpose or even intention of being viewed. We know of course that that is never the case.
Where communication is lacking, there is no art. Communication could be addressed to the intellect or to the emotions of a viewer, but at least one of these should be inherent in the picture. The viewer must know the artist’s intentions. Thus, Miró’s "Dance of the Poppies" is a powerful picture, because the idea that was expressed in the picture is indicated in the title. Without the title such pictures lose much of their value and the work of art has no meaning.
Stating that a picture exists only for its own sake is a communication in itself, even if only a communication of arrogance and defiance, but such communication bores after the first picture, and thus further works become meaningless and without interest for further viewing. After a few pictures, "art pour l’art" pictures stop quickly to appeal.
Abstract art allows an unlimited spectrum of combinations of lines, shapes and colours. It allows the combination of language. More importantly, more than previous art styles, it allowed enhancing each of these elements by their own right. Therefore, abstract art will continue to find new, original expressions until the end of times. But without the idea of the artist it will either just appeal to waves of emotions in the mind of the viewers, which is to be music, or be purely of a decorative character. The abstract paintings that appeal most to viewers are those that express a strong explicit idea of inspiration of the artist.

Arte: That was a long discourse, Zeuxis. I like it when you talk while we walk, especially as it rains. But this rain gets stronger. I’m going to make a run for home.

Zeuxis, shouting while Arte runs away: Arte, Arte, please read my next article! It will be on content.

Arte: Yes, yes. Bye, Zeuxis!

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: June 2010
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